Beautiful Art

Museum Shows Dazzle with Light, Photorealism and “Art for Art’s Sake”



August is a nice time to be in NYC as many city inhabitants leave town for their final summer getaways, leaving it a bit less congested for the rest of us. It’s a great opportunity to take in some museum shows, especially these stunning offerings in three of the city’s more intimate spaces.

For a fascinating look at a New York City that is oh so familiar, but never quite existed, check out Richard Estes: Painting New York City at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). This collection of Big Apple-themed works by the renowned Photorealist painter spans 50 years and provides unprecedented insight into the creation of his eye-popping paintings and works on paper. Estes’ preparatory photographs, silkscreens and woodcuts, plus their proofs, states and tools are all included in this enlightening exhibit, illustrating the arduous path to his impossibly bright and detailed paintings. Works such as the 1966 “Bus With Reflection of the Flatiron Building” and 2009 “Columbus Circle Looking North” demonstrate Estes’ frequent inclusion of images reflected in glass windows, distilled from numerous photographs taken of the subject. As the fabulous recent (2014) “The Eye Man” demonstrates, the 83-year-old Estes is still at the top of his game. (Through 9/20, 2 Columbus Circ. at 58th St.)

For those who haven’t yet seen it, here’s your last chance to view Spencer Finch: A Certain Slant of Light at the Morgan Library and Museum, up through August 23. This site-specific, large-scale installation of 365 transparent colored squares affixed to the glass of Gilbert Court — Renzo Piano’s four-story atrium — was inspired by the Morgan’s collection of medieval Books of Hours. These kaleidoscopic squares, along with 12 additional glass panes hung in the court’s center, reflect countless arrangements of light, depending on time of day, that transform the space as well as views of the street outside. In addition to grouping colored panes by season, Finch arranged red-hued glass to align with the sun’s arc across the space at noon, to mark certain secular holidays he deemed significant, such as Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday on January 4 and the Dec. 10th birthday of Emily Dickinson, from whose poem the exhibit takes its name. (Through 8/23, 225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.)

An iconic 19th century painting is currently making its New York City debut at the Frick. On loan from the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June embodies the philosophy of “art for art’s sake,” which celebrates works that are purely aesthetic, rather than subject-centered. The beautiful rendering of a voluptuous sleeping woman in a diaphanous saffron-colored gown is familiar from numerous tributes, including t-shirts, coffee mugs and Jessica Chastain’s reenactment on the cover of the December 2013 Vogue. The painting, completed during the last months of Leighton’s life in 1895, was probably based on Dorothy Dene, his favorite muse. June eventually entered a private collection, then disappeared from view before a young Andrew Lloyd Webber spotted it in a London antiques shop in the early 1960s. (His grandmother refused to lend him the £50 purchase price.) A former governor of Puerto Rico bought it soon after, making it the centerpiece of the new museum in Ponce. Known as the “Mona Lisa of the Southern Hemisphere,” Flaming June is exhibited alongside four full-length portraits by James McNeill Whistler, another proponent of “art for art’s sake.” (Through 9/6, 1 E. 70th St. at Fifth Ave.)